Etruscan mythology, £8.99
Height: 4.600 cm (with suspension loop)
Diameter: 4.200 cm (excluding frame)
Weight: 34.190 g
Bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild
M&ME Waddesdon Bequest 171
Room 45: Waddesdon Bequest
Possibly from Italy or Spain, mid-16th century AD
The Conversion of St Paul
Please note, this object is not currently on display as Room 45 is now closed. A new gallery housing the Waddesdon Bequest is due to open at the Museum in June 2015.
This elaborate badge is made in embossed and chased gold relief, enamelled and set with gemstones. It depicts the Conversion of St Paul (Acts 26: 9-21). The enamelled frame bears the inscription 'DURUM . EST. TIBI . COMTRA . STIMULUM. CALCITRARE' ('It is hard for thee to kick against the goad' (Acts xxvi, 14))
The high relief is formed by the technique known as repoussé, or embossing, where the gold is pushed out from the back to form the design. It is deliberately emphasized by the use of opaque white enamel set against the shimmering, translucent enamel of the background. The different gemstones serve as a dominant part of the architectural features.
Hat-jewels with figurative scenes were a customary part of fashionable court dress throughout Western Europe in the mid-sixteenth century. These miniature sculptural reliefs, enamelled and set with gemstones, are frequently documented in princely collections, often recorded as gifts. The vogue for Biblical scenes lasted longer in Spain than in other countries. This jewel has been traditionally associated with Don John of Austria (1545-78), brother of King Philip II of Spain. He achieved international renown as the successful Admiral-in-Chief in the naval victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto (1571), and gained infamy through his dissolute life thereafter.
A playing card has been used as packing between the relief and the engraved gold disc at the back, which records the jewel's early history. The inscription reads: 'Giojello che teneva al Cappello il Generalisso / D. Giovanni d'Austria, e che / pose di propria mano al / Capello di Camillo Capizucchi / come al Libro di memorie / della Casa Capizucchi / Tom. I. a C.' ('Jewel that belonged in the cap of the Generalissimo, don John of Austria, and that had been set with his own hand on the cap of Camillo Capizucchi as recorded in the Book of the history of the House of Capizucchi Tome I. A C.').
H. Tait, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Beq (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)
H. Tait (ed.), Seven thousand years of jewell (London, The British Museum Press, 1986)